Gospel Hope

So, I started a new book. I realize of course that I say that with the kind of casualness you’d assume as if you’ve been carrying on a conversation with a good friend and a good meal. If I let it play out, you’ve just started a new bite and I’m finishing mine. A white napkin across my lips and I say, it’s called, “Suffering” by Paul Tripp. You say, “Oh yeah? How is it?” “As advertised on its cover,” I reply, “it’s gospel hope when life doesn’t make sense.” You nod in polite agreement. I take another bite.

Paul Tripp as some of you may know is a speaker, writer and pastor. He also got hit with something that prevented him from doing any of that. As I read his book, I often feel like he’s plagiarized not only my writing but my life. “I was proud of my physical fitness and confident in the healthiness of my body. I was proud too that because I was physically strong, I was able to be productive. I traveled every weekend to conferences and wrote book after book in between. I look back now and see that I lived with assessments of invincibility. I was not a young man, but I felt like I was at the top of my game. Health and success are intoxicating but also vulnerable.”

In the book of Job, he writes…

“How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.”
— Job 14: 1-2,5

What a verse. What truth.

I'm sentimental, of course, but bodily stewardship is truly an ever-growing tension for me; as if each ticking second of the clock beside me as I type this sentence represents the irreversible loosening stitch of the fabric of my physical self, and in essence, the tearing apart of my being.

When I got sick a few years ago, my grasp of my mortality tightened and my sensitivity to the brittleness of my body heightened. I came face-to-face with a certain truth. That my physical limit wasn't my personal best; like some passing bench press (405lb.) or my squat (550lb.); imposters disguised as my potential. I list them only to help illustrate that those mountain-top moments didn't represent my personal best. No, the most strenuous minute I've ever filled came when I realized I would never attempt to best them.

Some of you have filled similar minutes.
The doctor’s prognosis;
the unexpected phone call;
the uncertain reality of loss.

Paul Tripp describes it this way: “Here’s what happens in times of suffering. When the thing you’ve been trusting is laid to waste, you don’t suffer just the loss of that thing; you also suffer the loss of the identity and security that it provided.”

(Yeah. I know, right?)

Frankly, nobody reading this sentence - or anyone who ever lived for that matter - has ever physically traveled beyond their God-given limits. Nobody. Read the verse above again if need be. And while that might be a slap in the face to the motivational speaker who claims we can push beyond them, the truth is, we never exceed our limits. We merely - if rarely - find them. And I like to think, like Job realized, that in finding our limits, we meet God.

- Jimmy Peña


(I press my plate away from me and you do the same. The waiter asks if we’d care for anything else. “Coffee?” he suggests. We both agree it’s a good idea.)